Saturday, 13 September 2008

Happy Birthday, Grandma!

43 Things about Grandma

  1. Grandma was born 13 Sept 1890, in Stillwater, Minnesota and was named Clara Rose, which I always thought was a pretty name. I think she liked her name, too.

  1. She was the 8th child of 12, 11 of whom lived to a ripe age, a fact often given in newspaper clippings of family obituaries, so this may have been unusual for the time.

  1. Grandma had brown hair and pale blue eyes. I would guess she was about 5’7”. She doesn’t appear to ever have been very thin, but she was never fat either. I don’t think she ever wore a girdle, as did my Grandmother, but as a child I thought of her as a pillow with a string tied around the middle. The pictures from her younger days suggest that while she wasn’t exactly pretty, she may have had an hourglass figure.

  1. Grandma was raised a Lutheran. She later dabbled with Christian Science, though she still took lots of medicines. I don’t remember going to church as part of Grandma and Grandpa’s routine, though they may have done when my Dad was younger. I have several small prayer books, one of which is in German and has an ivory cover. Grandpa seemed to go along with whatever was Grandma’s current fancy pertaining to religion. Crosses, prayers and religious pictures were part of the d├ęcor in their house.

  1. Grandma always believed that her father was born in Indiana, where his family first settled. In fact, he was born in Furth, Lindenfels, Germany. He appears to have altered the spelling of his name about the time of WWI when it may not have been very popular to be German. I gather that two of his sons fought in the war against his homeland. That must have been very strange; then again, my Dad mentioned to me once that his ancestors immigrated to the US because they didn’t like living under Kaiser Wilhelm. Grandma is in the front on the left.

  1. I know very little of Grandma’s life before she married. From the pictures of her family I gather they were fairly well off, better off perhaps than her husband’s family. When she was 22, Grandma married Jacob, whom she called Jake, 20 February 1913. They had been married 60 years at the time of Grandpa’s death.

  1. She was 4 years older than Grandpa, which embarrassed her, though I see that her brother Henry was 5 years younger than his wife, Ann, who was Grandpa’s sister. Perhaps this age difference wasn’t all that uncommon at the time. She wore a hole in the page of the family Bible changing her birth year; I always found that amusing, but a bit sad.

  1. I think she was quite the clothes horse in her younger days, and I really enjoy looking at the style of her clothes from nearly a century ago. When I remember her she wore simple cotton dresses, of dainty floral prints and with matching belts, hosiery and practical walking shoes, usually beige, with holes in for air circulation. I think this was an accepted uniform for older women in the early 1960’s.

  1. Grandma was always very tidy in appearance; I only ever saw her in her nightgown and robe just before bed. She was an early riser. She wore matching earrings and necklaces a lot. She and Grandpa both wore glasses.

  1. She wore Wind Song perfume. After Mom and Dad split up, I once gave one of my Dad’s girlfriends some Wind Song perfume for Christmas, thinking it might put him off her. This idea amused me very much.

  1. She had one son, Lyle, born in 1918 who was the apple of her eye and the centre of her world.

Naturally, when I came along, she thought I was wonderful, too.

  1. Grandma was always a housewife as I remember, but from Mom’s letters in 1944, she possibly worked in a photographic studio in Madison with Grandpa for a while.

  1. Grandma’s family was mainly in Minneapolis, though later generations scattered as far as California and Florida (and me, here in England). She and Grandpa lived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1934 and by 1944 they’d moved to Madison. They followed Mom and Daddy to Oklahoma City in the late forties or early fifties. It was there that they bought the first and only house they ever owned. Mom was telling me one time about how excited she had been when she and Daddy bought their house in the Village before it was built, and how seeing this Grandpa had decided to also buy his first house. I was surprised to learn that before WWII it was more usual for most people to only ever rent their houses rather than to own. This of course was quite different by the time I came along.

  1. Grandma always knitted her own dishcloths; I don’t remember her knitting anything else. She taught me to cover hangers with strips of nylon her sisters sent her. She kept a giant needle and a long thread for me in the button drawer of her treadle sewing machine. She would let me string buttons for hours, but always warning me to be careful with the needle. I don’t remember ever seeing her sew, except to mend clothes by hand. Her sewing machine sits beside the front door in the hall of this house.

  1. Grandma was the family correspondent, keeping up with 10 brothers and sisters, and numerous nieces and nephews. I have letters and cards from more nieces and nephews than I can fit into a family tree. I have no idea about what sort of education she will have had, but the letters I have of hers are all grammatically correct and written in neat, square-ish handwriting.

  1. She tended to be quiet; I never heard her speak loudly or at length. I don’t remember her as expressing strong opinions about anything. She always struck me as being a slightly anxious, timid person. She seemed to worry a lot about the people she loved.

  1. Grandma never drove a car, so far as I know. Grandpa took her with him most places; otherwise she stayed at home.

  1. Grandma was as thrifty and careful about money as Grandpa. I never heard her complain about not having enough money, but when Daddy was down in Dallas her letters to him asked that he repay the money he had borrowed from them.

  1. They went back to Minnesota or Wisconsin most summers to visit family. I gather family members came down to Oklahoma City occasionally, but I don’t remember ever meeting any of them, strangely.

  1. She warned me often to watch my fingers around the wringer washing machine and though she often used a pressure cooker, she seemed to regard it as fairly dangerous. I think this is why I’ve never learned how mine works; I’m afraid of it! Grandma used a push sweeper on their short pile carpets in the living and dining room. She had a meat grinder that clamped on the kitchen counter and had a big handle that turned. I still use it to make bread crumbs.

  1. I remember hiding between the sheets and playing with the clothes pegs while Grandma hung her washing on the lines in their back yard; we called it ‘helping’ Grandma. She was a methodical, meticulous housekeeper, but she let me turn the house upside down when I came over. She was rarely idle, usually darning or knitting when she sat.

  1. Grandpa and I used to make a ‘train’ that was sort of an obstacle course with the rugs and chairs that twisted and turned through as many rooms of the house as we could make it. We did put it all back of course, that was part of the game.

  1. I don’t recall seeing her read much, but she clipped obituaries and kept funeral cards and crushed flowers in her Bible. She also wrote out birth dates and dates of death and the family and place names and put these pages from a stenographer’s pad into her Bible. It is this information that has enabled me to do most of my genealogy research on Daddy’s side of the family.

  1. She played cards with Grandpa and me, but always left it to Grandpa to play checkers with me.

  1. Looking back it seems I rarely took my dolls or toys to their house; there were endless other things to do over there, thing I only did at their house. It seems I grew up experiencing 3 separate cultures in my parents and grandparents’ houses.

  1. Grandma never swore, never smoked, rarely finished a single beer, though she did occasionally have seconds of Mom’s cooking.

  1. Grandma was very affectionate with me, I remember lots of hugs and kisses. In the last year I found one of her nephews from Minnesota, Clay, who now lives in California. He and his sisters say she was always their favourite aunt and she was very affectionate with them.

  1. She liked to have me sit in her lap and to scrape half an apple with a spoon, feeding it to me like baby food. She did this until I rebelled around the age of 6 or 7.

  1. She always put a chair beside the bed when I spent the night so I wouldn’t fall out of bed, even after I thought this was a silly thing to do.

  1. She firmly believed in Vick’s Vaporub and a scratchy wool cloth on the chest to help a cold; I learned to avoid visiting Grandma & Grandpa if I had a cold.

  1. Every day, Grandma had to have Grandpa put in her drops eyes for glaucoma, though a doctor later told us she probably didn’t have glaucoma after all. Still, this was part of the routine of the day for them and it was a major multi-step procedure that started with moving the chair away from the desk, getting the medicine bottle out of the box, having tissues to hand, etc. I think I thought I was watching minor surgery or something.

  1. She saved all the birthday and Mother’s Day cards she got – and I still have a good number of them, as they are old and interesting and I am perhaps nearly as sentimental as she was, though I don’t save my own cards, well, not very many.

  1. Grandma always liked it that her birthday and Grandpa’s were only 3 days apart. I don’t recall that they exchanged presents beyond a card or did anything all that different about their birthdays, but they were acknowledged as special days.

  1. Grandma saved her (giant economy) dishwashing soap bottles with the snip-off tops for me to play with in the bathtub. It was great fun to fill them up and squirt the water out (though never at Grandma – I wouldn’t dare even think of it!) Another game we had was for her to help me try out ‘hairstyles’ sculpted from shampoo.

  1. Grandma’s cutlery was a mismatched collection. When I expressed a preference for the design of a certain, knife, fork and spoon, they became ‘mine’ and appeared on the table at my place ever after. She routinely made my favourite dish of hers when I came over: beef stew in the pressure cooker. I ate it a la carte, putting butter on the mashed carrots and potatoes and ketchup on the beef.

  1. According to Mom, Grandma preferred Daddy’s first wife, Adeline, to my mom, though I never heard either of my grandparents ever speak the woman’s name. Mom and Grandma never argued or anything, Mom just wasn’t included in the circle of people Grandma fussed over and the main effort in the relationship was made by Mom, who didn’t really seem to mind that much.

  1. Sadly, Grandma’s only son found her expressions of love and concern smothering and irritating. He seemed to keep her at arms’ length as much as possible and only provided birthday and Mother’s Day cards with Mom’s prodding (purchase and provision of a pen, if I recall correctly). Even when I was fairly young I was able to understand why he felt smothered, as I did too sometimes, but I did think that he could have been kinder to his mother all the same.

  1. Grandma loved to tell me about her father, her brothers and sisters, none of whom I ever met. I used to think she was jealous of Grandpa’s family and that was why there weren’t as many pictures of them and they didn’t seem to keep in touch as much. Now I realize that while she may have felt that way, it is more likely because Grandpa was the youngest child of a much older family and many of them had died by the time I came along. I also think his family had less money when he was growing up and consequently fewer family photos from that time.

  1. Grandma began to lose her mental capacity by the mid-to-late 60’s. I remember at our house Grandpa having to follow her to the bathroom to make sure she was presentable when she returned to the living room. This may be in part why she was so quiet, because she was slipping away. One day when they picked me up from school she handed me an envelope with a note inside. When I opened the note a little plastic spider fell into my lap and I squealed and we all laughed. Even at that time it struck me as being an unusual thing for her to do and I wondered if it was perhaps a glimpse of what she was like before senility began to creep in.

  1. She began to lock the screen door when Grandpa went out to mow the lawn and seemed forget he existed. We could all see the humorous side of this situation, but it was also frustrating for my Grandpa. Grandma’s encroaching senility may have been part of what my Dad found difficult to be around; being dependent or disabled in that way was one of his chief fears.

  1. After Grandpa died and Mom came over to care for her, Grandma wandered around in the house in her pajamas, as though looking for something, though she only asked for ‘Jake’ once. Mom said Grandma seemed to vaguely understand when told he was ‘gone’.

  1. Grandma was impossible to keep in bed, but she fell often and Mom wasn’t strong enough to help her up. Much as Mom hated it, they had to put Grandma into a nursing home. She only lived a few months longer.
43. Grandma died of a stroke, on the 16th of August, 1974, only a year after Grandpa. Just as their dates of birth were only 3 days apart, so were their dates of death.

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